Review: 'Mad Men' Returns With A Confident 2-Hour Premiere That Proves It's Still The Best Show On TV

Reviews
by Cory Everett
April 7, 2013 11:00 PM
16 Comments
  • |

Roger Sterling (John Slattery)
Last season Roger dropped LSD, the world opened up to him in an entirely different way and he got divorced from Jane. We last saw him naked, staring out the window, perhaps wondering what lay on the horizon. When we pick up with him in the premiere, he's in therapy trying to figure out what it's all about. It seems his happiness too, was temporary. While mortality looms over many of the characters on the show, it literally surrounds Roger here. Upon hearing that his mother has died, he seems to have almost no reaction and even treats her funeral with complete nonchalance. Bu he breaks down when he learns that Georgio, his shoeshiner, has passed away. Was he really more affected by the death of a man he barely knew over his own mother? Or was it that this man had been so quickly forgotten and he feared the same for himself?

Slattery spoke to Hitfix about Roger's journey, "I think maybe he is a late bloomer. At this stage [he's] trying to figure out something that's going to sustain a little more interest than just the things he's been up to before... through this inadvertent acid experience. I think he's opening. I think he's willing to change or willing to do what he has to to find some sort of sustained meaning in the whole thing. I think given the focus on youth that exists now, that existed probably more then, and being the age he is, there are all kinds of things that enter into the question and I think he's interested in something new." Like Don, he'll be searching for his own happiness this season trying to find that next open doorway.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)
Though we knew Elisabeth Moss would be returning to the show, we had no guarantee of what capacity it might be in. After all, no other character has left the SCDP (or Sterling Cooper in the old days) offices and remained a central figure on the show: Sal (Bryan Batt), Kinsey (Michael Gladis) and Duck (Mark Moses) were all dropped from the cast once their characters were given the boot only to make the occasional cameo appearances when the story demanded. Thankfully if the premiere is any indication, Peggy's role on the show will not be diminished at all, which is great news because Moss and her character have always been the crucial counterpoint to Don. Moss confirmed as much to Collider recently saying, "The only thing I can say is I'm very happy with where it's gone, I'm very happy with what's happened. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I have had to do in this season. I was kind of expecting not to be in it so much, because I thought, oh, I'm at a different agency. And I'm pleasantly surprised."

The SCDP creative room can't help but feel a little bit stale without Peggy there though it's nice to see her on a late night call with Stan (Jay R. Ferguson), catching up on all the latest office gossip. This show has always been great at hinting at much greater lives for our characters than the ones we get to peek in on. Stan and Peggy were at odds for much of their time together and though we never got to see the breakthrough where they eventually became friendly, it happened somewhere offscreen. In the first two hours, we see Peggy at her new job having settled into her new environment and having become very much like her old mentor. Watch her scold an underling for presenting three versions of the same idea and think back to how far she's come since the pilot. As so many of the other characters have run into walls trying to change, Peggy is perhaps the only character who if they ran into their former self, would find her completely unrecognizable.

Betty Francis (January Jones)
Betty, more than any other character on the show, has gotten a lot of hatred from the audience, which has been directed both at January Jones herself and the writers for crafting such an "unlikable" character. At this point, no matter how she tries to screw it up, it's hard not to sympathize with her, trapped in this prison of her own making. Though her husband is endlessly supportive, her beauty has begun to fade as she struggles with her weight, her mother-in-law is horribly overbearing and Sally (Kiernan Shipka), now entering her teenage years, is starting to rebel.

There's also something disconcerting about how unconditionally Henry (Christopher Stanley) loves Betty regardless of her physical appearance, mood swings and anything else she can throw at him. Sometimes it seems like she'll do anything to get a rise out of him but he just won't comply. (We're praying her kinky/jealous idea to invite their teenage houseguest into a threesome with her husband is the most cringeworthy thing she'll do all season.) Despite a house full of extended family members, Betty, too, is alone. Will her visit to St. Marks Place awaken something in her as well? Or will she retreat back to familiarity? Her rash decision to go brunette may hint at other big changes on the horizon for Betty.

Final Thoughts

After "Homeland" broke the series' streak of four consecutive Emmy wins, I joked that the show would be back with a vengeance this year, imagining the notoriously competitive Weiner would no doubt want to restake his claim. (He recently admitted to the NYTimes, "It was a bad night...unpleasant.") But returning with fire and fury isn't the show's style, instead the season 6 premiere quietly, confidently reminds viewers that there really isn't and has never been anything quite like it on TV.

Few shows can capture visual poetry with such gracefulness (watch Don gazing out his office window as the sounds of the ocean fade up around him) while still being fucking funny. "How many funerals have you been to today," Pete smirks as Don stumbles into Roger's mother's wake. Never has a show been less driven by plot and more led by the characters themselves. Where they need to grow (or regress) determines which storylines will be needed to get them from A to B (and in some cases back to A). TV has rarely been so brave and may never be again. With the show scheduled to conclude after its 7th season, let's enjoy it while it lasts. [A]

Reviews
  • |

More: Television, Mad Men, TV Reviews, Review

You might also like:
Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

16 Comments

  • bluey | April 29, 2013 10:30 PMReply

    This show is vapid and empty, the characters are shallow, the acting lousy. I'd rather see Julian in " Trailer Park Boys" walking around with his rum & coke; more believable. Hamm's acting's wooden, motivation and character development nonexistent. I keep expecting him to be caught shagging someone's dog.
    But, wow, check out the pontificating director and producer, the period detail, gosh - and the product placement can't be beat!
    Br Ba was too " Mission Impossible" this season. I hope the last part will show meth addicts again, so WW is not so abstractly evil. Remember the hungry dirty little boy whose mom crushed his dad under the ATM? Or the meth heads digging?
    Mad Men is superficial and soulless, a perverse soap opera. Br Ba may end up being great.

  • - | April 30, 2013 11:01 AM

    "Hamm's acting's wooden"
    *facepalm*
    Jesus Christ. And you clearly don't know what a soap opera is if you're calling Mad Men one. (Here's a hint, it's not 'any show that has barely any violence in it which I don't like')

  • guilherme | April 9, 2013 7:55 PMReply

    Breaking Bad is the best show on TV right now, both shows are very well written and directed, but BrBa is more cinematic, powerful, riveting and it's been almost perfect since season 2 (season 4 is the best season of any TV show ever, with "The Wire" season 4 at side.). The transformation of Walter White into Heisenberg is one of the best things that Television ever seen.

  • Ian Peterson | April 8, 2013 1:11 PMReply

    Certainly a brilliant series but a more balanced review was expected. While the last night's season opener brought back everything we like about Mad Men there were also moments that reminded us of its flaws. Thematically there was some recycling going on, the two hour long story arc was a challenge, directing / editing hit a few rough patches and the introduction of new characters worked intermittently. But, definitely, a very strong season premiere making us hope that following episodes will be less sprawling and more driven.

  • Egghead | April 8, 2013 11:30 AMReply

    Mad Men is certainly on its way to becoming one of the best shows in the last decade. And the writer highlighted perfectly exactly why that is. The characters of the show are the strongest set of characters on any show. That is all because of the writing. Nothing compares to it. It has by far the smartest writing on TV right now and it's a shame if you can't see that because everyone else does.

  • Travis | April 8, 2013 9:50 AMReply

    Mad Men is definitely one of the best shows on TV right now, and is likely one of the best shows of the last few decades. Jon Hamm, and the rest of the cast, has given great performances over the years and I’m anxious to see how the new season unfolds. Unfortunately I missed watching last night’s premiere because I was busy working late at DISH and didn’t make it home in time. This afternoon I’ll have to catch up by watching on my iPad during my commute. I’ve got the DISH Anywhere app so I can watch any show recorded to my DVR, or live TV broadcast, anywhere I go with internet access available.

  • Andy | April 8, 2013 8:42 PM

    Wow this is (kinda) cleverly disguised spam.......

  • DJP | April 8, 2013 1:02 AMReply

    Completely agree with Rena Moretti. Mad Men is the most overrated show on TV.
    People and critics think they're smart and sophisticated if they watch the show.
    Interesting occasionally but boring just as often. Much ado about nothing.

  • Brad | April 8, 2013 5:27 AM

    I am hardly smart and sophisticated, but it is by far the best acted, and written show on television. If you don't think it is interesting often then it is your failing, not the shows. Keep trolling though, six times.

  • Rena Moretti | April 8, 2013 12:46 AMReply

    In other words, it's still the most over-hyped, poorly acted (by Jon Hamm) snoozefest on TV.

    Amazing how TV critics always gravitate to the poorly-made, over-hyped flops...

  • Andy | April 8, 2013 1:24 AM

    Amazing how you can speak in such general terms without any supporting points or thoughts, thus adding zero to the conversation. Aka a troll. Great job Rena.

    The great part of this episode was how it showed Don and his internal conflict while contrasting it with Betty and her "trying to change for the times" attitude. Ah, The Doorway was a very clever title.

  • JemK | April 7, 2013 11:26 PMReply

    Are you kidding? Never faltered? You're obviously biased.
    And this show is as '60s as an '80s mullet.

  • Lou | April 7, 2013 11:23 PMReply

    I love the Mad Men story. I just wish the delivery were of quality. HD? A Joke.

    Excessively compressed. Dark suits or hair are all black, like wise anything light becomes white.

    This is done to decrease bandwidth to make it cheaper to transmit, yet is still called "HD".

    It's very disappointing.

  • Edward | April 7, 2013 11:04 PMReply

    The best show on TV that's not Top Of The Lake you mean.

  • Cory Everett | April 8, 2013 10:12 AM

    Was under the impression that "Top Of The Lake" was a mini-series but either way we can both agree that Elizabeth Moss stars in the best show on TV.

  • Brad | April 8, 2013 5:30 AM

    Top of the Lake is great, not sure if it is as good as Mad Men. It strives for perfection though, and more folks should be watching.

Email Updates